Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Happy Monday, let's watch 5 movies.

I started with a documentary, beginning with the short AFTER THE SHOCK. A very brief but powerful movie about the filmmaker coming out to her family.

That was the lead in to the documentary about doctors (a doc doc, if you will) MONEY AND MEDICINE, a pretty timely film about an important topic--out of control health care spending. They frame it as a comparison between two hospitals--UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and Intermountain Medical Center in Utah. In brief, the movie makes the compelling case for Intermountain's model of team-managed health care, reducing unnecessary procedures, and minimizing time in the hospital. Through this they reduce errors, improve patient prognosis, and spend less money. They also make less money, because of a system that pays per procedure (instead of per outcome) and therefore pays doctors more if the patient gets sick. On UCLA's side, they point out that while Intermountain bases their methods on studies of populations, things are very different when the patient is you or a loved one--then you suddenly do want all those "unnecessary" procedures. But the movie makes a strong case that actually those extra procedures all carry a risk. And more revealing is the argument for how often those procedures that "cure" an underlying condition (e.g., early stage cancer that has not become symptomatic) actually "cure" something that would probably have never manifested itself symptomatically--i.e., leave it alone and these patients would have eventually lived to a ripe old age and died with cancer but not of it.

So all that is to say it's a very interesting topic and they throw a ton of information at you. Unfortunately, it's not very cinematic. It's a lot of talking heads, a lot of descriptions of specific medical procedures, and a lot of information. But it's pretty much the driest, talking-head style documentary you could make on the topic. It's clearly coasting on the power of the material, not the power of the filmmaking.

MONEY AND MEDICINE with AFTER THE SHOCK plays again March 8 at 6:45 and March 10 at 2:00 pm.

Next up was a mostly improvised comedy HOW TO CHEAT. Mark and Beth are married, but both have their own busy schedules. To the point that when they're trying to make a baby they have sex in the most passionless, quickest manner possible. They are, in short, numb--at least numb to each other if not numb to the entire world. You have to wonder if their inability to conceive is God telling them they'd be horrible, horrible parents. Anyway, Mark decides to have an affair, just to feel something again. But he has his principles--he's going to be honest about it (well, other than not telling Beth.) He will tell his mistress he's married, and he will tell her he has no plans to leave his wife. So he meets a nice girl, who turns out to be kind of a freak, and wackiness ensues. Good, bad fun is had by all...or at least some...okay, maybe nobody...except the audience.

HOW TO CHEAT plays again March 7 at 9:45 pm.

Then I wandered over to the VIP Soiree at House of Siam (proud member of the Cinequest Dining Circle) for a quick glass of wine and some snacks (sweet potato fries and spring rolls) before skipping down the block to the Camera 12 for my next film.

That next film was PAST SUMMER, which was a pretty amazing accomplishment considering it was made by high school students in Beijing. Summer is the (adopted) daughter of a wealthy household, often referred to as a Princess. Past is a poor but sweet girl next door, who works as Summer's maid for a time. The story starts with them meeting. At least, that's where it starts chronologically, but the movie jumps all over in time, over a period of a little over 400 days. Each scene is conveniently introduced with a number, referring to what day in the story it is. That way, they can tell the story of their life changes, loves, and amazing discoveries as a series of memories (in fact, the opening scene is the chronological end of the story.)

I really don't want to criticize this movie at all, given that I'm kind of in awe at what these kids (co-director Yiqi Song and Guangwei Du) created, and I know they'll learn and make their next movie (if they continue making films) better. But here goes, anyway: The sound was uneven, the music was too loud (it often felt like watching a music video.) The jumping through time was exhausting. It was a good idea, but each scene was too short so you were jumping in time too often. And the acting was not great (I assume the actors were all students as well, none of them are professional actors), which is pretty typical of many independent films, especially those made by students. But none of that really matters, I'd still watch their next movie.

Sadly, that was the last showing of PAST SUMMER, unless it makes it to the Encore Day.

And the movie was brief enough that the Soiree was still going on, so I had a little more nosh (including Satay skewers) and wine at House of Siam. And then I met some friends at Billy Berk's (also a proud member of the Cinequest Dining Circle) for a quick beer and some appetizers (chips and guacamole, mini-pizza, etc.) before my next film.

And that was Shorts Program 6: Whirls and Currents
AND WINTER SLOW: Jez's husband is very ill, not long for this world. So she's having an affair, and planning to leave him. If only she can get her sister-in-law to take care of him.
THE CHILD: A woman finds a baby left in her shopping cart, and has to deal with it. Or maybe she's just nuts and that actually is her baby. In any case, that baby says the rudest fucking things to her.
THE DEBT COLLECTOR: An awkward young man is a debt collector by day and plays saxophone at night (just to himself, but he's working up the courage to try open mic night.) He befriends the nice old lady next door, but things don't quite go right on their first dinner together. Beautiful deadpan comedy by the lead actor.
SILENT RIVER (APELE TEC): A story of two men attempting to escape from Romania to West Germany during the worst of the Ceausescu's reign. There are problems, of course.
WINTER FROG: Love, loss, grief, and wine. And Gerard Depardieu, of course.

Shorts 6 plays again March 7 at 9:45 pm.

And then, it was finally time for the last film of the night. To be very, very honest I chose to see this for one big reason--it got out the earliest so I'd have more time for drinking at the Meetup. And it turned out to be my favorite of festival (so far!) It's a short and feature by film student Nicolas Steiner.

First up was the short IT'S ME, HELMUT. On Helmut's 57th (or 60th) birthday...weird stuff happens, as friends step out of the wall, the set gets up and walks away, until you're left alone in the mountains--with a band. All done in one uninterrupted shot (and Nicolas only had 3 rolls of 16 mm film to try to get it right, which he did on the third try.)

And then the feature length documentary, BATTLE OF THE QUEENS. I have no idea how to convince you to see it, it's the sort of unsellable concept that no one thinks could possibly be this great. In a town in Switzerland they have a contest known as the Battle of the Queens. Cows battling each other (not bulls, mind you. The bulls are too dangerous to ever let out of the stable. These are cows of a specific giant, aggressive breed fighting each other for dominance.) And it's beautiful, it's funny, the music is great. It's a cacophony and poetry all at once. Nicolas made liberal use of beautiful widescreen black and white cinematography, lots of slow motion shots (particularly in the fight scenes), wrote his own music, and made a freakin' masterpiece.

Again, I just don't know how to sell this film, and judging by the meager audience last night nobody does. But those who saw it last night (or its previous screening on Sunday) witnessed something amazing. So I'm sorry for the fact that I don't have the right words to convince you to see it. But if my word alone carries any weight, please go see it in its third and final screening (unless it gets into the encore day, which I'm hoping for.)

BATTLE OF THE QUEENS and IT'S ME, HELMUT plays again March 10 at 11:30 am.

Then I want to the Meetup at Tanq. And drank a lot. So please don't look for pictures of me on the Cinequest Facebook page (the embarrassing ones wouldn't be up yet anyway.)

And that was my first Monday of unemployment at Cinequest. I could get used to this.

Total Running Time: 429 minutes
My Total Minutes: 270,560
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